If you’re reading this, there’s a good chance you’re looking to plan a dinner out with young kids. Maybe your own kids, maybe your friends’ kids, maybe your kids’ kids. Whoever these kids are, you’d like to have a sit-down meal with them, and you need a place where everyone can both have a good time and eat genuinely good food. Here’s our guide to 20 restaurants in Chicago that make it easy. If you’re truly desperate, you can even print this out and bring it along for the kids to color on. We won’t be offended, although your kids might be when they realize it’s not very good coloring material.
Not only does Etta have great food, but it also works for a lot of different situations: group dinners, catching up with friends, and, if need be, date night when the sitter cancels. This place serves delicious housemade pastas and pizzas, plus other dishes (like vegetables and pork shoulder) made in their wood-fired hearth. So basically, come here on a date, BYO milk for the baby, and order the cavatelli.
Have you ever been in a room for 10 minutes before noticing someone else was in there with you? That inoffensive blend-into-the-scenery person is The Smith, a mini-chain restaurant based out of New York. Its menu and space are designed to appeal to the largest amount of people possible, including children. So come here next time your entire family is in River North and wants a range of options like burgers, salads, pizza, fried chicken, bibimbap, steak, and mac and cheese, plus maybe some crayons and a high chair.
Canton Regio is a Mexican spot in Pilsen that looks like a cross between an old barn and an old church, with high vaulted ceilings and things like saddles and wagon wheels on the wall. The service is both friendly and patient, and the consistently loud atmosphere (you can expect a Mariachi band while you’re here) dampens the piercing shrieks that occasionally explode from your two-year-old. This place has delicious queso fundido and guacamole and lots of grilled meat, including tender steaks and fajitas. Just make sure to order extra housemade flour tortillas - they’re so delicious that if you run out, it’s the adults at the table who might throw a tantrum.
Dutch & Doc’s is an all-day brasserie in Wrigleyville from the same people who own the steakhouse Swift & Sons. This place serves the same high-quality steaks as its sister restaurant, but here you can bring your squirmy child and not feel like you’re ruining someone’s important date night or business dinner. Their kid’s menu has things like chicken nuggets and PB&J, and on non-game days kids can eat for free. It’s basically an upscale sports bar, and even has a view of the stadium. You probably won’t win parent of the year, but just looking at Wrigley is a lot cheaper than taking toddlers into the ballpark.
Ina Mae is a casual restaurant in Wicker Park serving New Orleans–inspired food. The menu is hit and miss, but they do have good po’ boys, fried chicken, and beignets. And with a large bar area and friendly staff, this is a great neighborhood spot for having a group dinner that includes children.
All the things we like most about the Big Star in Wicker Park - the huge patio, solid tacos, and fun atmosphere - are in full effect at the Wrigleyville location. But unlike the original, this version is twice the size and very family-friendly. Just check the Cubs schedule before heading here with tired and hungry kids, because it’s right across from the stadium and gets incredibly busy on game day.
Monteverde serves some of the best Italian food in the city, and it’s usually our first recommendation when someone is looking for outstanding pasta. It also happens to be great for eating out with kids. There’s even a dedicated kids’ menu, with a few pasta dishes and things like chicken tenders. On the non-kids’ menu, we particularly recommend the cacio e pepe and the pork shank.
Summer House is a good for a lot of different situations, whether it’s catching up with your vegetarian/gluten-free ex-roommate or coming alone and only getting treats from the pastry case. This versatility extends to eating with kids, since this is another spot with a dedicated children’s menu. Plus, the space is large and crowded, so any childish behavior won’t stand out (unless it’s yours - you should know better).
Stella Barra is the pizza place attached to Summer House. They share an entrance, and luckily, also the same pastry case. There’s both a kids’ menu and, at brunch, a separate kids’ buffet (with simpler breakfast items like pancakes and sausages). Sit on the back patio where the sky can absorb the sound of your 6-year-old’s comprehensive explanation of what really happened to the classroom hamster.
Southport Corridor is a family-friendly neighborhood, so any meal you eat around here will probably involve kids - yours or someone else’s. Going to Coda Di Volpe, which serves very good Italian food like wood-fired pizzas and housemade pastas, is no exception. The dining room is large, with plenty of tables, big booths, and room for high chairs. Just keep the scissors (which you use to cut your pizza at the table) away from anyone young enough to throw a tantrum if they lose a game of War. Including your 30-year-old brother.
This Japanese restaurant in River North serves excellent food, but doesn’t take itself too seriously. A meal here will be affordable, and the atmosphere will likely be loud enough that when the younger members of your party decide to serenade you with off-key renditions of their favorite songs, some people might not even notice. Also, the bathroom sign is a giant poop emoji. These things, plus incredibly friendly service, make it a solid choice when you’re with kids.
Cafe Ba-Ba-Reeba is a fun restaurant with solidly good tapas and great sangria. It’s also lively enough that no one will act annoyed if the kids at your table get rambunctious. Kids get a free pintxo of carrots and hummus, and the children’s menu has tapas like chicken or beef a la plancha and a vegetable paella. There’s also mac and cheese, because it’s the universal food for “just stop whining and just eat this” (that goes for adults, too).
When you think of eating out with children, French restaurants might not immediately come to mind. But Mon Ami Gabi, in Lincoln Park, understands that there are eight-year-olds who appreciate escargot. (There’s also a kids’ menu with things like steak frites and mac and cheese, just in case.) No one has to get dressed up to come here, but if you’re looking for an excuse to see your 4-year-old nephew in that tuxedo he wore at your wedding, feel free to lie and say it’s black tie. Just be prepared to pick up the bill when his parents realize what you’ve done.
An excellent, family-friendly option for a special occasion. There’s even a kids’ menu with things like a petite filet mignon and a crab cake. All in all, a good place to start training children for the Chicago steakhouse way of life.
This BYOB Costa Rican spot has a large, covered patio and very friendly service. In other words, it’s the kind of place that makes you feel good the moment you walk in. The atmosphere is upbeat, and the menu is long, with lots of sandwiches, empanadas, and entrees like casado, a Costa Rican specialty with skirt steak, an over-easy egg, and plantains. (Don’t miss the delicious oatmeal shake, either.) Just FYI, it’s cash-only.
Roots is a family-friendly pizza spot in Lincoln Square. They serve Quad Cities-style pies, which means the pizza here is cut into rectangles, and on most pies, the toppings are under the cheese. There’s a lengthy menu with a decent selection of salads and a rotating list of pizzas designed by local chefs, and also a separate kids’ menu, with things like housemade spaghetti, a hot dog, and mini corn dogs. A huge bar area, the large patio outside, and interesting specialty pies make it a good place to go with or without children.
An all-day cafe serving upscale takes on diner food. Little Goat is from the chef behind Girl and The Goat, so you can expect similarly high-quality food. They serve breakfast (like their Fat Elvis waffles, with peanut butter-flavored butter, banana, and bacon maple syrup) all day, as well as things like grilled cheese and chicken fingers that you’ll want to steal off the kids’ plates when they get distracted... or claim they’re full after 64 seconds.
This very casual restaurant in Pilsen serves excellent Mexican food. Anything from the long menu will be delicious, but know that some things are incredibly spicy (the servers are really accommodating if you want to make any adjustments). If you’re still hungry after your queso, tacos, and tortas, the desserts, like bread pudding topped with strawberry ice cream, will please everyone at the table.